My wife and I were walking through the normally quiet and deserted midday streets of Golden Gai in Shinjuku. Suddenly I heard voices singing loudly to a very mainstream-sounding J-pop song. I followed the raucous sounds to a little dive which, unlike the other dives around it, had its front door wide open. Inside a bartender and three customers were joyously boozing it up and singing like contestants trying out for a television talent show.
And so, after calling my wife over to have a look we unexpectedly found ourselves sitting in a teeny Golden Gai bar ordering drinks at 12:30 in the afternoon.
The place is called Yoshida Shōten (よしだ しょてん). This is Getta, the bartender and, presumably, the owner of the joint. He charged my wife and I ¥500 each for cover, and ¥700 apiece for two Japanese whiskies and a regular bottle of Asahi Super Dry. He knew some English, was very accommodating, and had a wry sense of humor. His place had various types of garishly-colored Japanese toys pinned to the walls, and small baskets of packaged sweet and savory Japanese snacks on the bar. He seemed to know what he was doing and how he wanted his place to be.
One of Getta’s customers, who didn’t give a name but whom Getta described in English as ‘a crazy boy’. I sat next to this man, who also spoke a little English. He was quite nice and outgoing, though shy of my camera, and I think he told me he had recently been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, which I won’t name here. But it did make me feel like an asshole for smoking a cigarette next to him. He didn’t seem to mind, though.
Another customer with whom my wife and I drank. A handsome fellow, also outgoing and friendly, but I don’t recall if he gave a name or not. He did most of the singing when Getta had the music playing over the bar’s speaker system. And he had a pretty good voice.
My wife and I were delighted to have the chance to drink in a Golden Gai bar, but it was early in the day for us and after sharing two whiskies and a beer we knew we had to press on with our day. So we paid Getta what we owed him, and said our goodbyes with smiles and our cameras. Despite having lived in Japan in the late ‘80s and visiting Tokyo four times since 2008, I had never had drinks in Golden Gai before. So stumbling across this lively little place was a real treat for me. What made it so special, of course, was the friendly warmth of the people there.
So, thanks gents.
(Pictures taken in Golden Gai, Shinjuku in Tokyo on November 15th, 2015)
When I lived in Tokyo in the late ‘80s, the Japanese didn’t pay Halloween any attention at all. However, in the years since they’ve embraced the holiday to some degree, as you can see in the image below and in a collection of my pictures here.
Being on Tokyo’s streets for Halloween was delightful, and the only trick I had to deal with was a tout in Kabukichō asking me if I wanted a sex massage.
(Pictures taken on the Yamanote Line near Sugamo, Tokyo on Halloween, 2015)
I shot these photos on the same day, within minutes of each other in the Golden Gai section of Shinjuku. And in the 20 months since then, it only just now occurred to me that the nice man in the second picture resembles the cartoon troll figure in the first picture. Weird.
I hope this pleasant-seeming fellow isn’t offended if he ever sees this visual comparison…
(Pictures taken in Golden Gai, Shinjuku, Tokyo in September, 2013)
A cheap and well-stocked vending machine alcove on the streets of Shinjuku near Golden Gai…
(Picture taken in Tokyo, Japan in September, 2013)
I once tripped through these lands like a god,
like the pure embodiment of all the liquor
the Allies ever drank in Tokyo.
It is quiet here now,
and the Americans are gone,
but I know these streets.
They are masters and servants to me.
In the daytime, the vampires are hiding,
(well, most of them)
even though I know where they lay.
At night they will be back here,
disguised as young salarymen,
and high school girls in vocational school,
and tourists from Russia and France.
I will know their minds and their innocent evils,
and I will keep watching until the sun and the train schedules
drive them from the streets back to their lairs.
They spoke heatedly, passionately, and didn’t seem to care who heard them. Overall she didn’t seem happy with him and he seemed frustrated by whatever she said. But it really didn’t matter, because it was a steamy-hot September day in Shinjuku, which made all of Tokyo cranky, so nobody passing nearby paid them any attention anyway…
(Pictures taken in Golden Gai in Shinjuku, Tokyo in September, 2013)
It was a sweltering day in Shinjuku, the sort of day where the hot, heavy air doesn’t much want to move out of your way, and seems to resent it when you push it aside to pass by. Days like this in Tokyo can suck the energy out of you, and the man obviously needed a rest.
The people passing by didn’t bother him just as he wasn’t bothering them, for the sidewalk was wide. There was an equilibrium in this, and a kindness which it is sometimes surprising that Tokyo is willing to provide…
In passing, quiet moments, when tobacco takes you its lover….
…maybe you think about all the furrows in fields you’ve never sown, all the gorgeous richness you’ll never see…
…and you puff on a tube of leaf, it is good Tokyo leaf and came at great cost…
…but it jackhammers into you that it won’t fill your belly, and maybe that’s okay because it is hard to care anyway.
(Pictures taken in Golden Gai, Shinjuku, Tokyo in September, 2013)
Noriya Takeyama is a Japanese toy and graphics designer. I was lucky enough to meet him in October, 2013 at the Fewmany pop-up shop at the Marui Annex in Shinjuku. He and his buddy in the porkpie hat came by to say hello to the Devilrobots, with whom Takeyama-san is friends. I didn’t get to hang out with Takeyama-san for very long, but he gave off this very cool vibe and I’m really glad I got a picture with me, him, and his pal in it.
And all these months later it just occurred to me that I’m an idiot for not asking the man to autograph a sheet of stickers I had with me that he designed….
(Photographs taken at Marui Annex, Shinjuku, Tokyo in October, 2013)
I took about 70 photographs last year of men of the street in Shinjuku. And to put this in the least acerbic terms possible, of the eight different men I photographed over the course of a month this shoeshine man was the only one who was doing something upstanding and productive. Granted, I didn’t go to Shinjuku to shoot pictures of upright, normal citizens, but I want to make a public note of the respect I have for this old fellow. Sitting outside the world’s busiest train station and trying to make a living shining shoes can’t be an easy life.
Also I have to freely admit this fellow reminds me of an old Tokyo song, which I first heard in the ‘70s in the motion picture “M*A*S*H”…
(Picture taken on the west side of Shinjuku Station in September, 2013)
During each of my trips to Tokyo in 2012 and 2013 to take photographs for my “Tokyo Panic Stories” project, I met up with some really wonderful people, people with whom I hope to remain friends for years to come. But during the 2013 trip, a particular treat for me was the opportunity to hang out with Shinichiro Kitai and Kotohiro Nishiyama of the Tokyo-based toy and graphic design firm Devilrobots. I have been a huge fan of the Devilrobots ever since I stumbled across their To-fu Oyako character toys on eBay in 2002. Their whimsical, anthropomorphic designs for toy figures and other colorful objects really appeal to something deep within in my senses of aesthetics and fun.
In short, and without being too gushy about it, the Devilrobots are personal heroes of mine, and their work adds a LOT of joy to my life. In fact, it’s fair to say the Devilrobots inspire me in a way that has helped me cope with my chronic depression.
I met these fine gentlemen one afternoon while they were setting up the Devilrobots “Devil Museum” retrospective and retail sale displays at the Fewmany pop-up shop in the Shinjuku Marui Annex. And the rest of the afternoon just flowed from there…
Mr. Kotohiro Nishiyama, Koto-san, the Devilrobots’ business manager who also acts as the English translator for public events. I got to hang out with Koto-san in 2012 at the Devilrobots’ offices in Shinjuku. Here at the 2013 Fewmany shop, he showed me the “Devil Museum” and the various artifacts from Devilrobots’ 17-year history.
The man himself, Mr. Shinichiro Kitai (Shin-san), the Devilrobots founder and lead designer and artist. He designed pretty much every toy and graphic element you see in these photographs. And he is as colorful, whimsical, and fun as the things he creates.
A display showcasing prototypes and mock-ups of some of the very first To-fu Oyako kubrick figures designed by Shin-san and manufactured by Medicom Toy. Other items in the display utilize To-fu Oyako design elements.
A closer look at some Devilrobots kubrick prototypes. Note the To-fu Oyako figure in the background shaped like a “Toy Story” alien.
Koto-san pointing at a display case full of Evirob kubrick figures and small sculptures. Evirob is Shin-san’s other major character design, but the character itself is a bit odd and hard to explain, mostly because I don’t fully understand it (even though I like it).
One of the neatest things on display, a mashup statue of toy designer Kenny Wong’s Molly character and Shin-san’s To-fu Oyako. I wish I could have purchased this, but I had to be scrupulous with my Kickstarter funds.
Koto-san and Shin-san taking a moment to evaluate their display work. Shin-san is, as you can see, not camera-shy.
A multitude of Devilrobots stickers and badges, manufactured by Facto, a Japanese design company which produces various goods for toy and graphic designers like Devilrobots.
After the work was done setting up the Devilrobots “Devil Museum” shop, Koto-san and Shin-san offered to take me out for some beers. Shin-san and I waited out in the rain in front of Marui Annex while Koto-san was busy retrieving the umbrella he had forgotten inside the building.
We made our way to joint called 82 Ale House in Shinjuku 3-chome. After Shin-san bought the first round of pints, he was kind enough to autograph some Devilrobots items I had with me. Here he’s inscribing a booklet he designed for a CD by an excellent J-pop band called Tokimeki Express.
Beers, smokes, peanuts, and a signed hand-decorated To-fu Oyako kubrick on a greasy bar table. To me this is one version of heaven.
As I noted earlier, Shin-san is not camera-shy.
Despite having to translate between me and Shin-san, Koto-san was able to relax.
I felt so honored that these busy guys…
…took the time to hang out with me.
The list of things for which I am a gushing fanboy is very, very short, but the Devilrobots’ design work and these two superior gentlemen are certainly on it. One of the greatest open secrets about the Japanese is that they are very warm, big-hearted people if you make the effort to get socially close them. Shin-san and Koto-san are two perfect examples of this. I really treasured their company that rainy afternoon in Shinjuku, and I hope they enjoyed mine.
And I can’t thank these two gents enough for their warmth, hospitality, and generosity. Take care, boys, and I hope to see you the next time I’m in Tokyo.
–Dan Ryan, Brisbane, California, July 22nd 2014.
Post script: On my birthday this past January, Shin-san created this digital birthday card and posted it on my Facebook wall, convincing me that he is even more of a big-hearted mensch than I already thought he was…
(Photographs taken at Marui Annex and 82 Ale House, Shinjuku, Tokyo in October, 2013)
I walked from Nakano to Shinjuku alone
I was never really alone or ever am.
The city was with me.
A god-pigeon was with me.
We watched hanami pass into hanafubuki,
as the city shook the petals loose.
I took them from the ground,
petals like silken snow
falling on harsh pavements and concrete.
It can be just as beautiful as hanami.
There are patterns to all of it,
everything has a place randomly assigned.
As I stood there at Kandagawa,
my hand full of Tokyo’s grace,
I looked nearby to the street,
the post-hanami trash had it’s own kind of beautiful pattern too.
(Pictures taken near the intersection of Otakibashi-dori and the Kanda River (Kandagawa) in April, 2012)
I had a finished poem written about this photo, and what might be going through this man’s head. It started with the line “I am stranded in my own blood” and got weird after that. But I scrapped it because I don’t think words can entirely convey how cosmically tired this fellow looked. He looked tired in a way that didn’t suggest utter defeat, but also didn’t suggest he was on an upswing. The kind of tired where you just have to sit quietly for a bit and take the time to consider which limb to move next, which finger to flick. The kind of tired that emanates from you so perceptibly that some schmuck standing near you only long enough to snap a few pictures of you can feel it.
That kind of tired.
(Picture taken on the west side of Shinjuku Station in September, 2013)
It is raining today in Brisbane, California.
I like to call it a fine Tokyo rain.
Because Tokyo taught me
to love the space between the drops and
to love the dirt-city vistas beyond the falling curtains and
to love the rain like it was my mother
who would never dissolve me like sugars to run down
the gutters to sweeten the trash for the sewer rats.
(Pictures taken in Shinjuku, Tokyo in October, 2013. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)
It was a warm, sunny day in Shinjuku, and I was on my way to meet a friend at Kinokuniya. As I was waiting to cross Shinjuku Dori, I noticed this thoughtful-looking fellow next to me. For the five or six heartbeats I was near him before the pedestrian light turned green, I thought he looked like the smartest man in the world.
(Picture taken in Shinjuku 3-chome in September, 2013)
So I have compiled a book of the short stories I have written in the last four years. It is available as Kindle book from Amazon. Here’s is how I have described it:
These eight very short stories, written between January, 2010 and October, 2013, run the gamut from a simple tale of friendship in a Tokyo bar (“Kamiya Bar”) to the horrors in the mind of a warped Japanese family man (“The Water and Plum Dream”). In between are tales of detective work, teleportation, alcoholism, Wyatt Earp, and a sequel to the movie classic “Blade Runner”. Short but bittersweet, “Kamiya Bar and other stories” won’t take long to read, but will have you thinking for some time afterward.
Interested? Okay, then click on the image of the cover below, and get yourself a quick but thought-provoking read….
Tomorrow is the Thanksgiving holiday here in America. It’s already upon my American friends in Japan. While I have some regrets (of the life-long variety), I have had a lot to be thankful for in the last 12 months. In particular, I am thankful that I was able to successfully fund a Kickstarter project which enabled me to return to Tokyo in September and October this year to continue my Tokyo Panic Stories work. And while I was in Tokyo, I was able to get together with some guys I already knew, and meet some new fellows with whom I hope to be friends in years to come.
I don’t have a hell of a lot of friends, and I don’t make them easily. This post is my way of thanking these fine gents for their company and warmth. Cheers, boys…
I didn’t get much sex in Tokyo this year. That is to say, unlike the risqué series of photos I took last year , in 2013 I think I unconsciously decided there were things I wanted to include in my photographic Tokyo explorations other than additional copious evidence of the unabashed Japanese attitude toward retail sexual entertainments. But when I passed this window one sunny September day in Shinjuku, well, I just had to marvel at these sizes and imaginative shapes…
(Picture taken in Kabukichō, Shinjuku, Tokyo on September 20th, 2013)
I passed though Shinjuku several times in September, and once in October. At a particular exit from Shinjuku Station, this man was always there. I don’t know his story, but his life seemed less that perfect. And still people passed him by…
(Picture taken at the east end of Shinjuku Station on October 5th, 2013)
The man was dapper and having a rest while feeding a multitude of birds, not far from Kinokuniya in Shinjuku.
One of the birds included this huge damn raven…
…which didn’t have time to nevermore linger.
(Pictures taken in Shinjuku, Tokyo on September 24th, 2013)
On the streets of Shinjuku today, a character of unknown disposition, purpose, or origin. But pretty damned colorful and determined-looking…
(Picture taken in Tokyo on September 24th, 2013)
You could see he was breathing, and there wasn’t any blood on the ground. Maybe someone drugged the rice at his feet.
A minute or so later he moved his hand to his face and scratched, providing further proof of life. Maybe not a happy life, though.
A man this young and fucked-up at midday is an unusual sight even in Kabukichō. Fortunately he was in a high-traffic area for passersby, who left him to sleep it off.
(Pictures taken in Shinjuku, Tokyo on September 20th, 2013)
of a thousand galaxies,
and it’s all
shining down here
(Pictures taken on Waseda Dori somewhere around Ochiai, I think, on April 13th, 2012. I had been very sick for nearly the entire first two weeks I was in Tokyo. Some kind of lung infection, which I later learned I probably brought with me from California or contracted on the plane as I flew to Japan. On this day, still suffering from a fever and horrible coughing fits, I decided I had to get the hell out of my apartment and do something. So I packed up my cameras, picked a direction, and started walking. I started at Nakano Broadway, and ended up at Shinjuku Station, shooting pictures of basically anything along the way.
It was a good walk. It was a good day to be alive and in Tokyo, and I fully recovered about a day later.)
It is a cliché of great truth: In Tokyo, one of the most crowded and kinetically frenzied cities on Earth, it is easy to be alone. I spent a lot of time alone in Tokyo in 2012—in my apartment, in restaurants, and in seedier parts of the city—during the five weeks in April and May when I was there working on a forthcoming book of photographs and prose. Fortunately, on a handful of occasions I accepted invitations to eat and drink with “gaijin”, mostly Americans, who knew me through Twitter and my heavy involvement with the 2011 Quakebook project.
I don’t make friends easily. I never have. I’m a natural, almost pathological, loner. But I was lucky enough to meet the good people in these pictures and click with each of them in some way. And I have stayed in touch with all these folks through social networks since I got back from Tokyo. I hope that continues for a long, long time. And to the people in my pictures I say: Thanks for making my 2012 trip to Tokyo such a splendid thing.
@loveartblues, an elegant guy wisely taking a break from the ocean of beer at Kamiya Bar.
@kuripyon, the smartest punk-rock-and-roll-engineering chick I’ve ever met. Kamiya Bar.
I met five other people in Tokyo, including this dear friend, but didn’t take their individual pictures. I’m sorry for that, and I hope to correct that mistake the next time we meet in Japan.